We run our website the way we wished the whole internet worked: we provide high quality original content with no ads. We are funded solely by your direct support. Please consider supporting this project.

insult

What About the Harsh Words of Paul? A Response to Paul Copan (#4)

This post is my fourth response to a talk given by Paul Copan at the Evangelical Theological Society in November in which he raised a number of objections to Crucifixion of the Warrior God. A major part of Copan’s critique centered on my claim that the love of God that is revealed on the cross, and the love we are called to walk in, is altogether non-violent (or, as Copan prefers, “non-coercive”). One of the arguments he uses to make this point is that Paul sometimes used harsh words of opponents that don’t seem to comport with my cross-centered understanding of love. Paul referred to certain opponents as “dogs” (Phil 3:2). He wished that those who taught that Gentiles must be circumcised would “castrate themselves” (Gal 5:12). And he declared a curse upon anyone who preached a message different from his own (Gal 1:8–9).

I have to grant that these examples indicate that Paul occasionally used language that conflicts with my cross-centered understanding of love. But rather than allowing Paul’s language to qualify our understanding of love, think we should instead conclude that Paul was a fallible human being who didn’t always live up to the Gospel he preached.

I simply do not see how calling a group of people “dogs” is consistent with Jesus’s teaching that we are never to apply slanderous labels to people (Matt 5:22) or with Paul’s own instruction to avoid using demeaning language for others (e.g., Eph 4:29, 31; 5:4; Col 3:8). Nor can I see how Paul’s insulting language is consistent with his own instruction to bless people and to never curse them (Rom 12:14), to never return evil with evil but to instead return evil with good (Rom 12:17; cf. 1 Cor 4:13), and to always treat enemies with loving kindness (Rom 12:19–21). And I certainly do not see how Paul’s insulting language is consistent with his teaching that followers of Jesus are to do “everything in love” (1 Cor 16:14, emphasis added)—an instruction that surely includes referencing theological opponents. When we consider that the early church defined the love that God is and that we are to imitate by pointing us to the cross (I Jn 3:16; cf. Eph 5:1-2), the unloving nature of Paul’s name-calling becomes all the more glaring.

Conceding this point simply means we must accept that Paul was not perfect. And this should not surprise us since Paul, to his credit, openly acknowledges this fact (Phil 3:12-13). Nor should it surprise us that God accommodated Paul’s imperfections when he “breathed” his word through him. This should be no more problematic then the fact that God accommodated Paul’s faulty memory when he “breathed” through him (I Cor 1:14-15).

Not only this, but since God “breathed” his definitive revelation through Christ as he bore the sin of the world, why should anyone suspect that Scripture, which is “breathed” for the ultimate purpose of pointing us to this definitive revelation, would be totally devoid of sin? The cross makes it clear that God has no problem accommodating sin in the process of “breathing” revelations of himself.

Yet, while Paul’s “old self” occasionally comes through in his writings, there is nothing in his inspired teachings that qualifies the unconditional, self-sacrificial, non-violent, enemy-embracing nature of God’s love that was fully revealed on the cross. I thus don’t consider Copan’s use of Paul against my Cruciform Thesis to constitute a particularly strong objection to it.

Photo by stucklo6an on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Related Reading

Is Non-Violence a Key to Christian Discipleship?

For the first three centuries of the church, Christians understood that forgoing the use of violence and expressing God’s self-sacrificial love was central to discipleship. However, this mindset changed after the Church acquired power in the fourth century. Entire theological systems have been developed to support the use of coercive power. However, contrary to that…

Henry’s Mom: Did God Author This?

Many of you were touched last month when we featured some reflections on little Henry’s death. Well, Henry’s mother Jess has started a blog to process through some of her thoughts and we wanted to share this amazing piece with all of you. Jess thinks ahead to the time when her two-year-old daughter will start…

On Mental Illness and Jumping from a Burning Building

 seyed mostafa zamani via Compfight Ann Voskamp wrote this piece in the wake of the suicide of Rick Warren’s son. It’s disheartening to hear so many thoughtless and cruel comments by other Christians when tragedies like this strike. But here is a voice of knowing and compassion. Here is love. From Ann’s blog post: I…

Participating in the Divine Nature (Love)

When God created the world, it obviously wasn’t to finally have someone to love, for God already had this, within himself. Rather God created the world to express the love he is and invite others in on this love. This purpose is most beautifully expressed in Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Jesus prays to his…

Blessing the Soldiers of ISIS

In light of the overwhelming response to Greg’s post about loving the soldiers of ISIS, we thought we would explore Jesus’ teaching on this topic further. The following is an excerpt from Myth of a Christian Religion. The perspective below stands in contrast to the perspectives exhibited by many Christians, one being the recent article…

What Would You Do If Someone Attacked Your Family?

The New Testament commands us never to “repay evil with evil” but instead to “overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:17; cf. I Thess 5:15; I Pet 3:9). Jesus said, “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also”(Mt 5:39). He also said, “Love your enemies, do good…